Gateway to the Classics: Stories of Charlemagne by Alfred J. Church
Stories of Charlemagne by  Alfred J. Church

How it Fared with the Brethren

A t Pentecost King Charles held a court at Paris to which with others came Duke Aymon and his sons. Said the King to Aymon, "You and your sons are very dear to me. Therefore I am minded to make Reynaud my steward." "I thank you," answered the Duke; "yet this I will say that you did a grievous wrong in that you suffered my brother Benes to be slain, when he had a safe-conduct under your hand. Nevertheless I forgive you." "Remember," said the King, "that Benes slew my son Lothair. Let us set one deed against the other, and speak of them no more." "So be it," answered the Duke. But his sons were not so minded, for they came forth out of the company, and Reynaud spake for them, "Sire," he said, "we are not of our father's mind, for we hate you with a great hatred." The King, being very angry, cried, "Away out of my sight, foolish boy; were it not for this company I would set you so fast in prison that you should not move hand or foot."

After these things the whole company went to the Church to hear mass; and after mass they sat down to dinner, but Reynaud would not sit down, so angry was he. After dinner, Berthelot, that was nephew to the King, said to Reynaud, "Come here, play me at chess." So these two sat down to play. When they had played awhile, there arose a dispute between them. So hot was the dispute that Berthelot called Reynaud by an ill name, and smote him on the face, whereupon Reynaud, lifting the chess board, that was of massy gold, smote Berthelot upon the head so strongly that he fell down dead. When the King knew this he cried in great wrath, "Lay hold on this Reynaud. By St. Denis he shall not go out of this place alive." Then the King's knights would have laid hold on him, but his brothers and kinsfolk defended him, and there was such a strife in the palace as had never before been seen. In the end Reynaud and his brothers, with Mawgis their cousin, escaped out of the palace, and mounting their horses fled to Dordogne, the King's knights following hard upon them. As for Reynaud he was in no peril, for his horse Bayard was as swift as the wind, but with the others it went hard. Then Reynaud turned upon the knights that pursued and slaying four of them, gave their horses to the others. So they came safe all of them to Dordogne, where dwelt their mother the Duchess. She, fearing greatly for their lives, would have them take all her treasure, and depart. So they departed, with many tears, and coming into the forest of Ardennes built for themselves a castle which they called Montanford. A great fortress was it and a strong, for it was built upon a rock and defended on all sides with great walls, and furnished with a great store of provisions.

When the King heard of what they had done, he required of his barons that they should help him to take vengeance for his nephew Berthelot. This they promised to do. "Only," said they, "let us go to our own land that we may make ready." To this the King consented. So they departed and came back to Paris in due time with their men. After this the King departed and marched as quickly as he might to the castle of Montanford.

Now it chanced that Reynaud's three brothers were returning from the hunt when they saw the King's host. "Who are these?" said Guichard. Richard, who was the youngest of the brethren, answered, "This is the King's host, for I heard it said that he was coming to take vengeance upon us. But now let us show ourselves to be men." So they and their companions rode to meet the vanguard of the King's army. And Guichard laid his spear in rest, and charged at the Earl Guyon, who was leader of the vanguard, and smote him so strongly that he fell dead to the ground. Thereafter there was a fierce battle, and it went hard with the King's vanguard, so that scarce one of them escaped. But the three brothers got back safe into the tower, and were greatly commended by Reynaud for their valour. And now the King besieged the castle. "I will take it," he said, "by force or by famine." But the Duke Naymes counselled him to demand Guichard of his brother. "If Reynaud yield him up," said he, "then this matter shall be settled peaceably and without loss." "That is good counsel," said the King, and he sent the Duke Naymes with Ogier the Dane to make their demands. But when Reynaud heard it, he was full of anger, and said, "My lords, but that I love you, surely I had cut you to pieces for bringing so evil a message. Think you that I will do so base a thing as to yield up my own brother? tell the King that I care not a penny for his threatenings; as for you, get you away out of my sight." So the two peers departed with all speed, and told the words of Reynaud to the King.

Then the King set guards at each of the three gates of the castle, and the commander of the guards at the third gate was the Duke Aymon himself, for, of his loyalty to the King, he made war against his own sons.

When Reynaud saw the guards that the King had set at the gates, he said to his men, "These men are worn and weary with travel, and it were but small glory to overcome them now. But when they are somewhat rested, then we will set upon them." And when the men heard him so speak, they judged that he was a very gallant, noble knight.

After a while, Reynaud said, "The time is come, else the King will think that we fear him. Sound the trumpet, and we will let him see what manner of men we are." So the trumpet was sounded, and Reynaud and his men issued from the castle gate, and the King's men on the other hand made themselves ready for the fight, and there was a very terrible battle. Reynaud and his men suffered much that day, for first the Duke Aymon wrought great damage to his sons' army, and then the Duke Fulk slew many, and the defenders of the castle had much ado to hold their own. Nevertheless they did so valiantly that at the last the King was fain to withdraw his men. Nor did he do this without great damage, for Reynaud came upon the army as it retreated, and slew many, and took certain prisoners. This done, the four brothers went back to their castle at Montanford.

But it passed the skill of man to hold the place against such odds as were brought against them. For the King, having gathered together a great multitude of men, surrounded the castle on all sides, and kept it close for a year and more. Then Reynaud sent a messenger to the King, saying, "I will surrender this fortress and myself also with my brothers, if the King will promise on his part that we shall have our lives and goods." But the King, moved by certain of his counsellors, would promise no such thing. And so for a while the matter stood; neither could the King win the castle, nor could the brethren go free.

After a while there came to King Charles a certain knight, Herneger by name, who said, "Sire, if you will give me this castle of Montanford for my own, and all the goods that are within, and the land about it for five miles, I will deliver to you Reynaud and his brothers within the space of a month from now." "Do this," answered the King, "and you shall have what you ask."

Then Herneger, after he had first disposed a thousand knights in the mountains round about, rode up to the castle gates and said, "I pray you to let me enter, for the King seeks my life. I have something to tell Sir Reynaud that he will be right glad to hear." So the porter opened the gate, and let Sir Herneger pass within.

When Reynaud heard that there was a strange knight in the castle, he came and inquired of his business. Herneger said, "The King seeks my life, because I spake on your behalf." "How does the King fare?" said Reynaud. "Has he good store of victuals?" Herneger answered, "He and his army are well-nigh famished. They will not tarry long in this place, and when they depart you may get much spoil by pursuing them." That is good to hear," answered Reynaud. "If the King fail of his purpose this time, the opportunity will not soon come again." Then he and his brethren and Herneger the traitor sat down to supper and made good cheer.

When all the knights were fast asleep, the false Herneger rose from his bed and armed himself. Then he cut the cords of the draw-bridge, and let it fall, and he slew also the guards that kept watch on the wall. When he had done this, the knights who were disposed upon the mountains came up, being led by Guy of Burgundy, and, finding the gates open, entered in and slew all that they could find. Truly it had gone ill with the four brethren that night but for the horse of Alard that woke them out of their sleep. For some of the guards had been slain, and some who should have watched were drunken, and the brethren had been surprised but for the loud neighing of the horse. When Reynaud saw that the enemy was within the castle, he and his brethren took their places in the tower, and, when the tower was set on fire, they took their stand in a certain pit and defended it right valiantly against all the King's men. After awhile, the other knights that were in the castle taking heart and coming to help them, they drove out the enemy from the castle, and shut the gates and raised the drawbridge. The next day Reynaud said to his brothers, "So far we have done well, and have been delivered beyond all hope. Nevertheless here we may not stay, for all our provision of food has been burnt by fire. Let us depart, therefore, while we can." So they left the castle not without much sorrow. Alard and Guichard were in the vanguard with a hundred knights, and Reynaud and Richard brought up the rear with all the rest of their folk.

That night they passed through the army of the King without hurt or hindrance. But for many days to come they had no rest from their enemies, nor of all that pursued them was there one that did them more damage than did Aymon their father. At last things came to this pass that there was no one left alive of all their followers. Their horses also were in a sore plight, for they had nothing to eat save only such roots as they could find in the ground. Nevertheless the horse Bayard was plump and strong, while the others were so lean and weak that they could scarce stand. A wonderful beast was he in this as in other things, being as well nourished by roots as other horses are wont to be by hay and corn.

As for the knights they were ill to see, for their armour was eaten away with rust and their skins dark with hunger and want.

Then said Reynaud to his brothers, "What shall we do? As for myself I had sooner die as becomes a knight than perish here of hunger and cold." Alard said, "My counsel is that we go straight to our lady mother in Ardennes. For though the King and his lords hate us, and even our father is set against us, yet I am persuaded that our mother will not fail us." "You give good counsel," said Reynaud; and to this the other two agreed.

That night the brethren set out, and travelling without stay came to the city of Ardennes. When they were in sight of the walls, Reynaud said to his brethren, "We did ill to take no surety of our father, that he give us not into the King's hands." "Fear not," answered Richard. "I am assured that our lady mother will keep us safe." So they entered the town. But no man knew them, so strange were they to look upon, and the townsfolk asked them, "Of what country are you?" "You are too curious," answered Reynaud, and they rode to the palace.

Now the Duke Aymon chanced to be hawking that day by the river, and the Duchess was in her chamber, where she was wont to sit, in much grief because she had no tidings of her children. After a while she came from her chamber into the hall, where the men sat, but she knew them not. Nay so black were they and foul to look upon that she was in no small fear of them, and was minded for a while to go back to her chamber. But soon she took courage, and greeted the men, saying, "Who are you, Christian men or pagans? Maybe you are doing some penance. Will you have some alms from me or clothing? methinks you need them much. Gladly will I do you this service that God also may have mercy upon my own children." And when she thought of her sons, and how she knew not whether they were alive or dead, she wept aloud.

When Reynaud heard her weep, he was himself greatly moved, and wept also. And the Duchess looking on him more closely was not a little troubled, so that she had almost fallen to the ground in a swoon. But when she came to herself she looked again and lo! there was a scar on his face that he had from a fall when he was a child. So she knew him again, and cried, "O my son Reynaud, how comes it that you are so greatly changed, you that were the fairest knight in all the world? "Then she looked about her, and knew her other sons also, and took them one by one in her arms, both rejoicing and lamenting. So she wept and they wept also.

And now came a yeoman to say that the dinner was served. So the Duchess and her sons went to the table, and sat down and made good cheer.

As they sat, the Duke came in from his hawking, and said "Who are these men that are so strange to look upon?" "These are your children and mine," answered the Duchess. "See what they have suffered, living in the woods. I beseech you deal kindly with them." But the Duke hardened his heart against his sons, because he would be true to King Charles. And there was much dispute between them, so that Reynaud had once half drawn his sword from its sheath. Only Alard stayed him, "Set not your hand against him, for that is against God's commandment." In the end peace was made between father and sons in this fashion. Aymon said, "I cannot abide in the house with these men, for that were against my oath to King Charles. But you, my wife, have much gold and silver, and horses and harness and armour. Give to your sons so much as they will take." Having said this, he departed from the house and his knights went with him.

Then the Duchess called her sons to her. First she commanded that they should make baths ready for them. And when they had bathed, she gave them rich apparel of all that they needed. This done she showed them the Duke Aymon's treasure and bade them take of it as much as they needed. Nor did they fail so to do. For Reynaud made such provision of men and arms that he gathered together a great company of soldiers.

The next day, just as they were about to depart, came Mawgis their cousin, telling of how he had taken three horses of the King, laden with gold and silver. "And of this treasure," said he to Reynaud his cousin. "I am ready to give you the half."

So they departed together, and the Duke Aymon met them as they went, and gave them his blessing, and "See," said he to the three, "that you obey your brother Reynaud, for he is good at counsel." To the Duchess, when she was nigh distracted at the departure of her children, he said, "Be not troubled over much; we shall see them come again in great prosperity and honour."

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